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close this bookABC of Women Workers' Rights and Gender Equality (ILO; 2000; 124 pages)
View the documentThe International Labour Organization
View the documentILO Publications
View the documentPreface to the earlier ABC of women workers' rights
View the documentPreface to the new ABC of women workers' rights and gender equality
Open this folder and view contentsIntroduction: Labour standards promoting women workers' rights and gender equality (Ingeborg Heide1)
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View the documentGender
View the documentGender analysis
View the documentGender equality
View the documentGender equity
View the documentGender gap
View the documentGender and development and women in development
View the documentGender mainstreaming
View the documentGirl child labourers
View the documentGlass ceiling
View the documentGlobalization
View the documentGrievance procedures
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View the documentOther ILO publications
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Glass ceiling

The phrase "glass ceiling" is used to describe the invisible barrier arising from a complex set of structures in male-dominated organizations which prevents women from obtaining top positions in management and administration. This phenomenon prevails almost everywhere despite women's increased level of qualifications and work performance. It has been demonstrated by research and statistics and is, at least partly, a result of persistent discrimination against women at work. Among other socio-economic reasons, the following were identified:

• The nature of women's typical career paths blocks their progress to top positions. Women are primarily placed in non-strategic sectors and in personnel and administrative positions rather than in posts leading to the top.

• Women have less access to training and are cut off from formal and informal networks that are essential for advancement within enterprises.

• Women workers still tend more than men to bear the main burden of family responsibilities, as well as paid and unpaid work; this double burden hampers their upward movement.

The following strategies may help in promoting women to top positions:

• improving legal frameworks to eliminate sex discrimination;

• enhancing awareness of obligations and rights, including on gender equality;

• affirmative action, mentoring and monitoring for women;

• more flexible and reduced working hours, as well as adequate childcare and elder-care facilities, to enable both parents to better combine family and career;

• better access of women to business skills training and entrepreneurship development to help them run their own businesses;

• improving women's access to training, in particular in technical and management fields;

• reviewing human resource development practices to recognize the potential value of non-conventional career paths and to facilitate women's access to managerial positions;

• placing more women in strategic sectors and positions that provide them with good career prospects;

• sensitizing policy makers and employers to gender issues so that they contribute to creating a socio-cultural environment which effectively brings about equality of opportunity and treatment within and outside the enterprise;

• recognizing that investing in women makes good economic sense.

→ see also Affirmative (positive) action, Discrimination, Education and Occupational segregation

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